Richard Tong

In responding to the question of what makes a civilized society, one might first consider a definition. Broadly speaking, most would accept that a civilized society is one in which humanity is at an advanced stage of social and cultural development, imbued with a sense of propriety, politeness and manners.

There might be a mélange of art, education, politics, religion, commerce, and technological advances. I would suggest, however, that these are superficial symptoms of a civilized society. Above and beyond that, a society is civilized not so much by what it has but by what it doesn’t have.

Discrimination, bigotry, abuse and violence.

These, some argue, are only practised by a minority of people in a small sector of a civilized society. Unfortunately, they exist at every level and thereby account for a notable proportion.

The notion of a civilized society, consequently, is a noble albeit hypothetical ideal.

Having lived in many so-called civilized societies of both East and West, I can attest to this. Having experienced discrimination, violence and abuse from an early age and at every ensuing stage, I have also lived this.

Ultimately, there is but one thing that can make a society civilized. A universal antecedent and symptom, in short supply, upon which advanced stages of social and cultural development are predicated.


Respect – for person, property, philosophy and the pursuit of happiness, at every level – is what makes a society civilized.

Richard Tong – Novelist